For decades, the city of Detroit has been the subject of a multiplicity of national and international news stories that have often portrayed the Motor City in a negative light. It seems for every good story that is written about the city, ten more are published or broadcast that reflect a myriad of unpleasant images.
While recent stories about the city of Detroit receiving $300 million from the Obama administration to help the city bounce back have been positive, they are mired, for now, in the backdrop of other riveting stories that depict the city’s historic bankruptcy, its unprecedented appointment of an emergency manager, the out-of-control crime and blight, and the ongoing saga that surrounds the recent mayoral primary election and upcoming general contest. Yes, when it comes to the Motor City, too often the message that reaches the world from this 312-year-old city is unfavorable.
Therefore, it was positive and uplifting when 28 CEOs from metro Detroit corporations and non-profit organizations banded together to send a convincing message to the nation that the Motor City is still a thriving metropolis with a tremendous upside.
The epic message was presented in a full-page ad that ran in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, September 22. The caption of the pro-Detroit ad was, “Here’s $250 billion that says the city of Detroit has a very bright future.”
The ad, which also appeared in the Michigan Chronicle, Crain’s Detroit Business, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and numerous other national publications, goes on to state that despite bankruptcy, Detroit is a major hub that has strength in technology, manufacturing, financial services, health care, education and more. It touts that the city’s residential occupancy rates and downtown office occupancy are at their highest levels in decades.
The verbiage of the ad concludes with, “Our companies are proud to be a part of our local economy, and we’re proud to be invested in its future. Why? Because we believe in Detroit…The real Detroit.” At the bottom of the full-page ad is a listing of the 28 metro Detroit-based corporations and non-profit organizations, inclusive of their logos and the names of respective presidents and CEOs.
The corporations and non-profit organizations listed included Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Quicken Loans, Comerica Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy, Penske Corporation, Ilitch Holdings, Inc., Compuware, Strategic Staffing Solutions, Detroit Renewable Energy, DMS Detroit, FirstMerit Bank, Henry Ford Health System, The Kresge Foundation, Lazboy, the Detroit Lions, Masco, wwwMckinley.com, Meijer, PNC, PVS Chemicals, Talmer Bank and Trust, Downtown Detroit Partnership, Business Leaders for Michigan, DMC, and the Detroit Regional Chamber.
While the pro-Detroit message of unity is strong and illustrates a collaborative spirit of faith in the future of the Motor City, the aforementioned list of entities missed some major organizations managed or owned by African Americans. For example, The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, where Faye Alexander Nelson, an African-American woman, serves as the organization’s president and CEO. The non-profit organization is a major force that has had over a billion dollars of economic impact on Detroit.
In addition, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), a non-profit organization that brings new companies and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to the city, was also absent from the ad. “I am all for the ad and the list,” said George Jackson, the African-American president and CEO of DEGC. “However, we (DEGC) were disappointed that we were not included, given the major role that we play in the arena of economic development and economic growth throughout the city. The omission of DEGC stood out, and I have made my disappointment known.”
Additionally, the pro-Detroit unity advisement did not include a single “locally-owned” African-American corporation.” For many, the omission was glaring. Why were some corporations and non-profit organizations, owned and operated by “local based African-Americans,” shut out from inclusion in the full-page ad?
Thriving local African-American companies and their top executive officers that could have been included are, Bridgewater Interiors LLC (Ronald E. Hall, Sr.); Global Automotive Alliance LLC (Dr. William F. Pickard); SET Enterprises, Inc. (Sid E. Taylor) and James Group International, Inc. (John A. James), all of which do hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of work in their respective businesses and industries. Both Pickard and Hall are board members for Business Leaders for Michigan, the statewide organization of corporate CEOs.
“The advertisement was a surprise to me because this community has long been known for its diversity and inclusion,” said Dr. Pickard, president and CEO of the Detroit-based Global Automotive Alliance, a premier automotive and aerospace parts supplier. “I’m certain this omission was an oversight and not benign neglect, because we have so much to do in this community…we need all hands on deck.
Many local Black stakeholders agree that if the city of Detroit is to return to its regal days of greatness, its corporate leaders, inclusive of those running “locally-owned” African-American corporations, non-profit organizations and other minority-owned businesses and non-profit entities, must all stand in solidarity. “Detroit is poised for an economic boom,” Jackson said. “However, if there is not diversity and inclusion of African-Americans and other ethnicities in this economic boom, the future of Detroit that’s being envisioned won’t work; it will be a strategy that backfires.”
“I thought the ad was inspiring,” said Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Detroit-based Real Times Media which publishes the Michigan Chronicle, Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier and several other newspapers and specialty publications that salute African-American achievement.
“But, I honestly think it would have been a home run had it included a few African-American business leaders. Our region is very diverse and I think it would have been a more powerful statement with more diversity,” Jackson added. “While our corporate community has really stepped up in the past few years during some very tough times, it’s difficult to truly promote Detroit without recognizing the substantial role that African-Americans play in this town. But these are good people doing great things in Detroit so I think I will chalk it up as an oversight.”